It began as a Roman town, and was later one of the major towns of the Kingdom of Mercia. Its strategic position commanding the Southern approaches to Wales was a considerable factor in both cases.
The splendid cathedral has grown out of the Norman abbey. It has the largest stained glass window in England, created in 1349, the country’s earliest Perpendicular architecture, lovely cloisters, with the earliest known example of fan vaulting, and the tomb of the murdered Edward II, which soon became a place of pilgrimage.
It was here that William the Conqueror gave orders for the compilation of the Domesday Book, and the young Henry III was crowned here. The cathedral is one of the three which alternate as hosts of the Three Choirs Festival, the others being Hereford and Worcester. It was used in filming for “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”.
Four streets, Northgate Street, Eastgate Street, Southgate Street and Westgate Street follow the Roman street pattern in radiating from a central point.
Northgate Street contains the timber framed and galleried New Inn, dating from the 15th century, where Lady Jane Grey, from Bradgate near Leicester, was proclaimed Queen.
In Eastgate Street the remains of one of the Roman gateways can be seen.
Southgate Street has a brilliant set of animated characters over a clockmaker’s shop, which come to life on the hour, and the lovely 15th century church of St. Mary le Crypt.
In Westgate Street the house known as Bishop Hooper’s Lodgings, where he spent the night before his burning at the stake, is now a folk museum. Opposite this is the mediaeval St. Nicholas Church. There is also a bookshop which has a fantastic frontage hidden away down an alley, and the Tailor of Gloucester’s House, immortalised by Beatrix Potter, is just outside one of the gateways to the cathedral.
Gloucester’s former position on the River Severn and the Gloucester - Sharpness Canal brought the docks a great deal of business. These are now superbly refurbished as a tourist attraction, with not only boat trips but also a collection of shops and museums.
Gloucester has extensive remains of both the Greyfriars and the Blackfriars, as well as remains of St. Oswald’s Priory, founded by Ethelfleda in 909 to house the relics of St. Oswald.
People born at Gloucester include Alastair Cook, the Essex and England cricketer; Jessica Mitford, the writer; Robert Raikes, founder of the Sunday School movement; John Stafford Smith, who composed “The Star Spangled Banner”; and George Whitefield, the Methodist evangelist associated with the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion.
The nursery rhyme about Doctor Foster, who went to Gloucester in a shower of rain, is believed to refer to a visit by Edward I.
Blue Badge Guide Colin Crosby is available to lead Guided Walks around Gloucester for groups.